Expanded Cornucopia schedule aimed at drawing destination visitors 

Premier food and wine festival grows to 11 days; features several new high-profile events

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Cornucopia returns to the resort for the 17th time Thursday, Nov. 7, and with a significantly expanded schedule this year.Organizers of the resort's premier food and wine festival hope to transform the event into a must-attend for both regional and destination visitors.

After a jam-packed five-day schedule in 2012, event producers made the decision to extend the festival over 11 days this year to make room for more programming, which will once again feature winery dinners, seminars, cooking competitions and wine tastings, along with a handful of first-time signature events. The longer format should also serve to increase the festival's attractiveness to destination visitors, a long-term goal of Sue Eckersley, president of key event organizer Watermark Communications.

"Going to 11 days gives us the opportunity to be a destination event. People are willing to come over from the U.K., for example, for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, and it's worthwhile because generally, they come for two weeks around the festival," she said. "We hope it'll be the same case in the future with Cornucopia, so it opens up our market to a bigger audience."

While Cornucopia was founded primarily as a wine-focused weekend, it has since grown to showcase B.C.'s abundance of quality produce, game and seafood, as well as shine a light on a variety of international cuisines. Eckersley said this year's additional programming also strives to reflect the growing demands of attendees.

"It allows us to expand our offerings," she said. "We are a food and drink festival, but in the past it revolved almost solely around wine, but we certainly know spirits is becoming a huge market for people, and obviously we know that beer, in particular craft beer, is something that people are very interested in."

A more robust schedule hasn't been without its challenges, however, with ticket sales pacing slower for the festival's second weekend than the first, according to Tourism Whistler's vice president of marketing, Louise Walker.

"For the second weekend, we are seeing a trend towards last-minute plans, with bookings slower but increasing as we get closer to the event," she wrote in an email. "This likely reflects the new events, the recent ramp-up in marketing and increasing awareness of the new programming."

So far, occupancy levels for Saturday, Nov. 9, the festival's first weekend, are at around 60 per cent, Walker said. Room night bookings for the first weekend are pacing ahead of last year, particularly on Sunday, Nov. 10, with a 28 per cent increase from 2012. This can be attributed to the statutory holiday the following day, as well as the return of one of last year's most popular signature events, Night Market: A Taste of Asia, which offers guests delectable bites served in the style of an Asian-style night noodle market.

With a handful of past headlining parties missing from this year's program, like Eau de Vie and High Rollers, several new cornerstone events have been ushered in to fill the void. Poured, set for Nov. 16 at the Whistler Conference Centre, is slated as "an intimate tasting experience of wine, cider, beer and food" giving attendees five tokens to spend on whichever products they wish, while Nourish is a series of food, wine, yoga and meditation seminars hosted at the Fairmont throughout the festival.

"We know from research that a lot of travellers are very interested in health and wellness, so we think this is a great segment," said Eckersley.

With increased media coverage, said to Walker, Cornucopia is cementing itself as one of the West Coast's most diverse epicurean experiences, raising the profile of Whistler's talented chefs and restaurateurs.

Cornucopia continues until Nov. 17. Visit www.whistlercornucopia.com for tickets and an event schedule.


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